Experts continue to tell us that the solution to the obesity epidemic is to “reduce the consumption of harmful high-fat foods” and “encouraging people to walk more through consistent town and building planning“.  But not even the most insane of them will tell you that eating less fat and exercising more will stop tooth decay.  
Researchers have known since the 60s that tooth decay is caused by just one (Streptococcus Mutans, or SM) of the two to three hundred species of bacteria that inhabit our mouths. In hundreds of very well controlled studies, scientists were able to determine that feeding rats sucrose (table sugar) encouraged SM to produce decay, but feeding them pure glucose or fructose on their own did not.   
In Sweet Poison, I take a brief look at some of the studies which show that if you want to rot teeth, you need to use a constant wash of sugar solution (like soft drink or fruit juice).  The following article was left on the cutting room floor when the book was being put together but with the impending fluoridation of the drinking water in my home state of Queensland, I thought it was timely to share it with you.
The costs associated with treating the symptoms of the activity of SM have grown exponentially in the past five decades (strangely coincident with the growth of the soft drink and fruit juice industries). Governments, desperate to avoid the popular demand for them to pay the bill for a disease that affects everyone (that consumes sugar), have increasingly turned to the quick-fix solution of mass medication with fluoride. 
The chemical used most commonly for water fluoridation is fluorosilicic acid. It is produced as a co-product from the manufacture of phosphate fertilizers. In 2002, the World Health Organisation conducted a thorough review of the available data on the health effects of fluoride. The report concluded that there were clear reductions (12.5%) in the incidence of dental cavities in communities where water fluoridation occurred.   These numbers are borne out by a recent Australian study which show that the average six year old will have one less decayed tooth (which still leaves two) if there is fluoride in the water.  However, the number of decayed teeth in the mouth of a six year old increased by 11.4% between 1990 and 1999.  So the ‘benefit’ of fluoridation may be very short lived indeed.  If we’re lucky, we’ll halt the upward progress for a decade or so.  Not even the most wildly supportive research suggests that fluoridating drinking water completely cures tooth decay.  It is at most, a band-aid solution.  Nevertheless it is a band-aid solution which has it’s attractions to those we elect to administer our funds.
There is no denying that mass medication has an economic appeal.  Australia now spends 1 in every 10 health dollars on those white (well, yellowish) things in our mouths.  And it is estimated that in the decade between 1979 and 1989, the US saved $39 billion in dental health expenditure with water fluoridation which cost a fraction of that. 
But the WHO report also noted that the risk of dental and skeletal fluorosis was significantly increased in areas where the water was fluoridated.  The report noted that 90% of ingested fluoride is retained by the body, leading ultimately to an accumulation which produced fluorosis caused by the accumulation of fluoride in the structural matrix of bones and teeth. It causes the exact property (hardening) desired by the mass medicators and is very effective, when applied to the surface of teeth, at protecting them against the destructive work of SM (although there is some evidence that SM can mutate to avoid the effects of fluoride). 
The problem is that when it is swallowed it enters the bone (and tooth) internal structure. The risks associated with ingesting too much fluoride are so real that earlier this year the American Dental Association put out a warning to mothers not to mix infant feeding formula with fluoridated water.  For the rest of us, over time, the accumulation of excess fluoride creates extreme brittleness leading to crumbling teeth and easily broken bones.   The experts employed by governments will tell you that the evidence is inconclusive, and so it is.  The reason it’s inconclusive is that the damage is done over a lifetime and this is difficult to simulate with a chemical which has only been part of the food supply since the 50s in some states in the US, let alone less than two decades in even the most ‘advanced’ implementations anywhere else.
‘Fixing’ tooth decay by replacing an expensive dental treatment with an ultimately more expensive, treatment of elderly people suffering continuous fractures, understandably has political appeal to legislators with a three election time frame in mind.  Even then the ‘benefit’ appears to be that we simply delay the upward march of dental caries by one decade.  It is  uncontroversial of me to suggest that reducing or eliminating the constant intake of sucrose would almost completely eradicate the problem (and a few hundred much more serious health problems), but governments would prefer the easy way out.  
The benefits to government are obvious.  They can justify the closure of public dentistry facilities (such as school clinics) because they have ‘solved’ the problem.  They will tell us that there will be an immediate reduction in the need for dental services.  And there will probably be a consequent short-term reduction in the pressure on government to pay for or subsidise those services.  Best of all, the ‘treatment’ is administered without needing us to exercise any control or will-power.
It’s clearly a lot easier to mass medicate than to contemplate a ‘discussion’ with the soft drink and fruit juice industries but I know which I would rather the Government be doing …

Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • wise23girl says:

    It is great to read your blog on fluoride. It is a mystery to me why so many dentists encourage us to use this poison.Maybe someone has shares in the water filter industry .
    And ,yes, the quick fix is so popular instead of asking “why” and addressing the cause.Someone once wrote the diagnosis is not the end of the story just the beginning of trying to find out why

  • … or maybe they aren’t too worried about public clinics being shut down?

  • Memory says:

    Hi David

    I have just finished reading your book and have a ? about yoghurt. There appears to be a lot of sugars in there, but are they fructose or lactose or something else??

  • Lactose accounts for 4.7g per hundred of the sugars listed on the label of a yoghurt. Besides lactose, most of the sugar in yoghurt is generally added fructose or sugars associated with the fruit flavourings. So, as with milk, subtract 4.7g per 100 from the amount you see on the label and that will give you a feel for the amount of sugar (in the traditional sense) has been added. Also take a look at this post for a specific example …

  • Unknown says:

    Interesting information.

    Geelong Dentists

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